It was a symptom of something very dangerous that the recent report of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, which had just heard a digest of surveillance conducted in Slovakia in the second half of 2006, urged politicians to widen the powers of the institutions that use surveillance equipment. For the average citizen, this means that the scope of civic freedom is narrowing, and that we must all be on guard to protect what remains from the state.
It is highly likely that surveillance equipment in Slovakia continues to be used for illegal purposes. Given that of the 650 cases in which a court authorized surveillance and wire-tapping, only 7 yielded any proof that could be used in court, it is fair to ask whether this power should not be removed. The military intelligence service, or VOS, had a perfect score of zero pieces of evidence from 70 wiretaps. While the VOS has a different brief than fighting crime, parliamentary oversight of the service is toothless.
One key issue that seems to have been ignored is that while thousands of conversations by suspicious individuals are being recorded, so are the private conversations of people who have nothing to do with any crime. This is genuinely private or business-related information, but the courts award permits on demand and without hesitation.
Now there is a new "problem" - suspects are exchanging mobile phones with their relatives, or using 10 different phones at once, so the intelligence services should be given access also to unpublished numbers. If we take a huge leap and assume that there is still a criminal in Slovakia who says anything substantial on his mobile phone, then it is possible to debate this matter. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the 2,500 wiretaps that were performed in Slovakia in 2006 work out to a ratio of 50 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 12 in Austria, 20 in Germany and 26 in France. In the Czech Republic the number is 100, admittedly, but that is due to the awful state of the police force and the frequency of wiretapping of the media.
In Slovakia, giving the police and the intelligence services new powers without setting up a civilian and politically independent oversight structure would be another step towards turning Slovakia into a police state.
Sme, January 25
29. Jan 2007 at 0:00